Minimalism and money: are you poor?

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What a question.

I’ve heard it many times within the minimalism community. People asking minimalists if their way of living is simply because they can’t afford to buy the things that everyone else can.

There are many reasons to adopt a minimalist lifestyle – stress relief, saving time, freedom from anxiety, sustainability and environmental factors, rebelling against consumerism.

And money.

That can certainly be a key reason why someone would want to embrace minimalism. And that comes in various guises:

  • Spending less on stuff so that you can work less and have more free time
  • Simply not having the excess income available to spend on anything above the essentials
  • Saving money for a financially stable future rather than spending it on trinkets now
  • Selling additional belongings to make much-needed money from your clutter
The Minimalists (2010-2015) pp 8

But it’s not necessarily about being ‘too poor’ to buy things; minimalism can be embraced for any number of reasons, not just to improve your finacial situation.

In my opinion, minimalists are the most wealthy of all – time rich, managed money, invested relationships. As The Minimalists said above, they know what adds value to their lives, which is an eviable situation to be in. Whether with lots of money or with none, their lives are complete.

But, if you have savings, a secure home, investments and all the essentials, what’s left to do with your money?

An interesting question.

I spent many years as a student (and in my twenties… and thirties) not being able to afford stuff. I had less-than the minimum needed to live on, and was often floundering in my student overdraft.

But, oddly enough, I spent more then than I do now. Having no extra money to play with didn’t ‘force’ me to become a minimalist – although that would have probably helped my financial situation at the time. Instead, I just carried on spending money, buying non-essentials and not considering my financial future.

Fields Milburn, J. and Nicodemus, R. (2021) pp 57

That is until the debts got a little too grand for my liking. Until I wanted to put down roots and save a deposit for a mortgage. Until I couldn’t even afford my monthly bills. Things had to change and I simply stopped spending.

I got a budget and started to save every penny. Saving became addictive – and I wasn’t even considering minimalism as a way to save money back then.

In truth, I’ve always been a saver, but just didn’t have the funds while I was studying to be able to do that. It was only after starting to manage my money more carefully that I discovered minimalism and all the things that it would help me with – primarily peace and calmness, but also saving extra money on unnecessary shopping.

Well, I’ve been decluttering and cutting back and not shopping and not spending for so long that it feels a little alien to buy anything now. My money automatically stays in my purse and in my bank account rather than being spent. The furthest it moves is into my savings account, and sometimes into my mortgage as an overpayment.

Minimalism brought extra money to me when I sold excess collections during decluttering. It saved me money when I questioned the need to buy anything new. It meant I didn’t need as much money to live on, because I didn’t need a budget for browsing the shops. So I could work less and save more.

After a decade or more of minimalist living, it’s just a way of life for me now. And money doesn’t feel scarce any more, all thanks to minimalism.

But that doesn’t mean I want to go out and spend it now that I have it.

It’s not that I don’t want to invest in new items when my old tech, clothing and homewares have worn out or broken, it’s because I’ve become so accustomed to not buying anything that I really consider it before I do.

However, when I feel more secure in my financial situation, I admit that I am much more likely to spend money. I feel more free to browse the shops, knowing that anything I buy won’t put me in a difficult position fiscally. From buying second-hand items from charity shops to purchasing the latest technology frrom glossy elecronics stores, I can be more free with my money because it doesn’t feel scarce.

And when I did hit the shops recently, it was rather exciting. I felt a little giddy when exchanging my money for goods. Carrying those bags home, bursting with new items. What an experience.

But that’s all it was – a one-off experience. The novelty of shopping soon wore off. I’m not NOT buying items because I can’t afford it. I’m just not interested in recluttering my home. I’d rather spend on experiences (meals out, day trips, theatre tickets) than things.

Kaplan, J. (2015) pp 95

I can spend money as easily as the next person; it’s just that I would rather buy an experience that’s not going to clutter up my home.

Minimalism persists, while money comes and goes.

We are not minimalists because we are poor. We are not poor because we are minimalists.

Fields Milburn, J. and Nicodemus, R. (2010-2015) Essential Essays by The Minimalists. USA: Asymmetrical

Fields Milburn, J. and Nicodemus, R. (2021) Love People Use Things. Great Britain: Headline Home

Kaplan, J. (2015) The Gratitude Diaries. Great Britain: Yellow Kite Books

Comfort without clutter

Theoretical Minimalist Inspiation Minimalism Home Lifestyle (7 Of 9)

As I’m writing this, it’s January.

Soon after ‘Blue Monday’, in fact. Said to be the most depressing day of the year

And I’m thinking about comfort.

The ways that we can soothe ourselves through the dark days of winter and the things we might need to help us achieve that aim.

Even though the Mental Health Foundation says Blue Monday is a myth, some of the factors that have caused it to be nicknamed are certainly true of the month of Janaury in general:

Gloomy and grey days. Cold and wet weather. Back-to-work feeling. Post-Christmas blues (and debts). Dark mornings and evenings.

It can be a lot to deal with emotionally, especially when you bring Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and general low mood into the mix.

The lack of exposure to sunlight in the winter can cause distuption to our circadium rhythm and the body’s production of melatonin and serotonin, which are linked to lethargy and feelings of depression – symptoms of SAD.

So it’s no wonder that some of us might be seeking to improve our January by enjoying a little extra comfort:

  • Introducing extra blankets, hot water bottles and cushions to the bed and on the sofa.
  • Adding soft, cosy lighting such as fairy lights, lamps or candles.
  • Layering up with extra knitwear, thermal bases or dressing gowns.
  • Choosing warming baths over showers, with bottles of bubble bath, face masks and luxury hair products.
  • Treating ourselves to some new items from the January sales; clothing, tech, homewares, cosmetics.
  • Enjoying entertainment by buying new music, films, books, magazines, games.

All of these items – and anything else that brings you comfort – may be benficial to your wellbeing in January. Anything that can help you relax, feel supported and put a smile on your face seems like a positive thing to do.

But, to some minimalists, the list above constitutes clutter. Those items are all surplus to requirements, making them essentially non-minimalist. You are re-cluttering.

And we need to consider the cost factor; how much of your hard-earned money is going to be ‘wasted’; how much space are the items going to take up; how much time will you need to spend maintaining those extra pieces.

The novelty of buying new things can bring a short-term boost but, as I’ve explored previously, the desire to acquire soon wears off. So even though a shopping trip to get some new comforting items might uplift you now, it’s possible that you may regret those purchases in the near future.

But, does a sparse home with only the essentials provide enough comfort? Both physically and emotionally? If you’re looking around a room with only the furniture needed to house the small number of belongings you have and nothing else, is it going to soothe you when you need to feel ‘at home’ and comfortable.

Sometimes, having a little more than the bare essentials is important in keeping us satisfied.

Sure, have just one sofa – but adding a blanket and a cushion can make it into somewhere you’d like to settle down and relax. Yes, create a capsule wardrobe of items that all work together, but why not choose an extra-snuggly knit for those cold wintery days when you want to stay warm? Okay, a light fitting in the ceiling does the job of illuminating the room, but a lamp or string of fairy lights will bring that soft glow that’ll make you feel cosy.

Nothing is clutter if it feels right to you and has a positive impact on your wellbeing.

All of those non-essential items are what make a house a home, and can help you to feel abundant rather than scarce, both of which are uplifting when it’s a grey Monday in the middle of winter and you need a little extra comfort.

Stay snug.

NHS (2022) Overview: Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) [Online]. [Accessed 17th Janaury 2024]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad/overview/

Kousoulis, A. (2021) What does blue monday mean for our mental health? [Online]. [Accessed 17th January 2024] Available from: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/explore-mental-health/blogs/what-does-blue-monday-mean-our-mental-health

When decluttering causes regrets

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I have regretted decluttering two items in my life.

It took me about three years to realise that I regretted giving up one of those items.

And the second one, I can’t be sure if it’s even gone – it might turn up one day but I might have donated it. I just don’t know.

The trouble is that, although I’m happy – over the moon, in fact – with the rest of the stuff I’ve decluttered and the resulting peaceful life and tidy home, I tend to focus on those two items.

The ones that got away.

I don’t need them. I wouldn’t use them. But they were mine once. And now I miss them.

Do you have items that you’ve given up that you regret? Perhaps the item marked the end of an era, of a dream completed, or of a project discarded? Was it the full-stop to that time of your life? Were you happy to see the back of it at the time but now yearn for those hazy days?

If so, you may have an idea of how and why I’ve come to rue my impulsive decisions.

Let me tell you what specifically I have regretted decluttering:

The first and least bothersome is a jumper. A simple black jumper. I enjoyed wearing it for years. I probably donated it because it’s such a basic item; something that can be easily replaced and I may have even already got a duplicate black jumper. I know I currently have a perfectly acceptable one in my wardrobe.

But that doesn’t stop me from hankering after the old jumper. It was the best-fitting jumper I’d ever owned. It was supremely flattering, with a scoop neck and a figure-skimming waist. But now I can’t find it, so I’m assuming that it’s gone. That it was donated with any of the other bags of clothes I’ve cleared out.

However, I think I’m remembering it in a rather more favourable light than it actually deserves. Perhaps the knit was bobbled and pilled? I think I remember the black looking a little faded? Was that scoop neck really a little too low for my liking? Did it even fit me anymore? It had probably come to the end of its life when I decided to let it go.

But I still think about it from time to time.

The more worrying item is a childhood book. This time I know I’ve decluttered it. Because I remember it being worth some money so, once I’d decided to declutter it, I sold it.

I didn’t declutter it because it was worth money – that was just an added bonus during lockdown when the world was an uncertain place and we needed extra money, not knowing what would happen to our jobs and our future.

I specifically remember not wanting it at all – it almost gave me the ‘ick’ looking at it – and being certain about decluttering it along with other books, childhood toys and so much more stuff. I think I was searching for order in a chaotic lockdown world. In fact, the pandemic had turned me into a hoarder and I wanted to regain control of my home and my mental health.

So I let that book go.

And now, three years later, it’s pinged into my mind.

I suddenly want to see it again.

More specifically, I want to smell it.

The pages had a certain smell – warm, milky, oaty – that took me straight back to reading the book as a child.

It wasn’t a story I cared about and I don’t even really remember the content or how many pages it was. But I remember the pictures and I loved that smell.

I miss that book.

So much so that I’ve been searching online to see if I can find it again to replace it. But even if I did find the same book, it wouldn’t have the same scent – so what would be the point of owning it? My childhood memories are all tied up in the aromas, not the plotline. Replacing it would feel hollow and would just remind me of the one I gave up.

So I won’t be replacing it and will just have to work on letting it go in my heart as much as I let it go in my brain.

I admit, this particular item was given up during a bit of a whirlwind declutter. A month or so of quick decisions and unemotional moments. Maybe if I had decluttered more slowly, this single regret wouldn’t have happened.

In Episode 410 of The Minimalists Podcast ‘Declutter Slowly‘ they discuss how it’s perfectly acceptible to take your time while clearing out your belongings. They make the point that it will have taken time – maybe ten years or more – to have accumulated all your possessions. So, you may need to take just as long to rid yourself of those items.

There’s no need to remove excess belongings overnight – although the all-at-once method may work for you. Sometimes, you might need to put a little more work into the decluttering process, particularly with personal items, and let things go mindfully.

And I think that a little extra thought before decluttering might have minimised my regrets.

But, then again, to have only two items haunting me out of the thousands of things that have gone is quite an achievement.

And one of those items I don’t even want anymore.

Now that I’ve written about the jumper, I’ve become more certain that it was time to let it go and that I wouldn’t even want it if I had it here now. That’s like decluttering it for a second time – it’s out of my mind now as well as my home.

If only I could feel the same way about that book.

Fields Millburn, J. and Nicodemus, R. (2023) ‘Ep.410 | Declutter Slowly’, The Minimalists Podcast, YouTube [Podcast]. 18th September 2023. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PlR1gV5TE40&t=365s (Accessed 20th September 2023).

How minimalism can help soothe the ‘Micro Stressors’ of everyday life

Theoretical Minimalist Minimalism Theory Interiors Building Lego

Unexpected life events are expected to be points of stress within our lives, but did you know that ‘micro stressors’ could be having the same effect on you as larger issues such as divorce, redundancy, moving house or trauma?

They may sound small and insignificant, but micro stressors are only that when seen in isolation. When grouped together, these everyday micro stressors can build up to unmanageable levels and can sap our mental resources.

They’re the smaller things in our lives that pile up to drain us – depleting our resilience, and making it harder for us to go about our daily lives in a good and healthy headspace.

Kathryn Wheeler

Micro stressors can be found in the workplace (deadlines, working hours, demands), in your relationships (values, expectations, pressure), and within your own sense of perfectionism. Each of these situations demands potentially unreachable standards and can therefore be the root of cause micro-doses of stress each day.

But, alongside these stressors is your environment. And that’s where minimalism comes.

Although there are often factors beyond your control in some environments you find yourself in (background noise, crowding, bright lights), where you can influence those micro stressors is within your own home.

Clutter is one of the most common micro stressors. It’s a physical manifestation of the problem because it literally builds up over time. Little by little, those piles of papers and messy corners add up until the clean-up operation becomes an overwhelming task. Stressful.

But, in this instance, we’re not talking about the stress of the massive tidying task itself, we’re concerned with the mini piles creating moments of micro-stress every day; A messy shelf catching your eye and nagging you to do something about it. The stacks of unopened paperwork and unread publications weighing down your kitchen table and your mind.

It becomes tiring – exhausting – to think about everything you need to sort out all the time. The to-do list is endless so those micro stressors in your environment become maxi stressors in your life. It’s only natural – evolution has caused us to be stressed by clutter.

Minimalism is such a useful lifestyle if you want to eliminate at least some of those micro stressors from your life. Although you can’t control other people and external environments (so may just need to find ways of coping with those micro stressors when they occur), you CAN tackle your home and remove any stressors there.

At the very least, by living a minimalist lifestyle, you won’t have mess to stress you out. You don’t need to grow your to-do list to extortionate proportions because there’s a place for everything and everything has its place.

Your home environment is organised and calm. It’s easy to keep on top of clutter. You can truly relax when you’re there. Plus, it’s easier to keep clean and tidy too, which is another way to ease stress.

That said, striving for the ‘perfect’ minimalist home is, conversely, a micro-stressor in itself. Try to let go of perfectionism so that it doesn’t become a new source of stress. If you can do this while still embracing decluttering and maintaining a tidy environment, you’ll feel a reduction in those daily mini-stresses – ‘one less thing to worry about.’

Just remember that ‘good enough’ is a more healthy approach than ‘perfect’.

Final thought: Why not try bringing minimalism into your workspace too? A clutter-free desk could equal one less work-related micro stressor and could help you to keep on top of your workload, too.

Wheeler, K. (2021) ‘Common micro stressors and how to tackle them‘ [online] [11th August 2023]. Published 13th October 2021. Happiful. Surrey, UK. Available from: https://happiful.com/common-micro-stressors-and-how-to-tackle-them

How cleaning and organising eases stress

Theoretical Minimalist Vacuum Hoover Cleaning Decluttering Stress

Do you ever find yourself speed-cleaning after an argument? Have you done the washing up after a conflict with your kids? Ever thrown an ex-partner’s clothes out of the window when you’ve broken up? (That just sounds like sensible decluttering to me!)

If you pick up the vacuum or start frantically tidying after dealing with a difficult situation this could be a way that your brain tries to ease your stress levels. A sort of reset, if you will.

It’s all subconscious, of course. I’m sure you’re not thinking that you MUST have a clean house just to spite the person you argued with. What good would having an empty dishwasher be when you’re crying about your boss berating you at work?

Some people find that the act of cleaning or organising helps them relieve stress from other areas of life.

Dr. Brian King (2019)

If you find yourself tackling a task, decluttering or doing paperwork after dealing with a difficult situation, you’re probably it doing in order to feel better. It may provide a distraction from the situation, it might allow you time to process negative thoughts without acting on them, and it certainly helps you to use up that excess ‘fight-or-flight’ energy.

You know the phrase ‘there’s no use crying over spilt milk’? It basically means: the quicker you get on with your life after an incident, the better you will feel. It’s telling you to stop crying (the stress element) and get on with cleaning it up (to ease the stress). I think that’s essentially why cleaning and organising makes us feel better – it literally wipes the slate clean.

In fact, it’s likely that you’ll get loads more work done during a stressful time than if you were doing some run-of-the-mill cleaning and organising at home. So, if you’re struggling with mental or emotional clutter after a difficult situation, you might as well harness this to tackle your physical clutter too – and feel better in the process.

Plus, an organised, clutter-free home enables you to feel more calm and relaxed in general – as discussed in my previous article ‘You are an Antelope: Why Evolution Causes Us to Be Stressed by Clutter‘ – which explain why we feel the urge to tidy and ‘clear the horizon of danger’ after we’ve been through a tough time.

Some people find solace in cleaning and organising when they’re in midst of a difficult period in their life. If something is out of your control and is causing you unhappiness, stress or anxiety, at least you can regain some control by tidying or organising your own environment.

Often people turn to minimalism after a period of stress in their life in order to get a feeling of calm and a sense of control. I’m not talking about an argument in this instance, but other issues such as grief, burnout at work or health problems. For example, co-founder of The Minimalists Joshua Fields Millburn began his own minimalist journey after the death of a parent and dissatisfaction in his corporate career.

We didn’t control our time, and we didn’t control our lives. So in 2010, we took back control using the principles of minimalism to focus on what’s important.’

Fields Millburn, J and Nicodemus, R (2010-20150 pp. 10)

So, the next time you feel stressed, maybe you could try to harness your brain’s desire for calm and order by doing trying following:

  • Grab the vacuum – the noise is a great way to block out worrisome thoughts.
  • Dig the garden – the physical activity can help you to burn off excess adrenaline.
  • Tackle tasks you’ve been putting off – you’ll feel a sense of achievement doing something you’ve procrastinated over.
  • Declutter your belongings – clear the horizons of clutter to naturally bring down your ongoing stress levels.
  • Shred unnecessary paperwork – that sense of destruction will help you to feel calmer after an argument.
  • Organise your desk – to regain a feeling of control.

If you have a go at doing one or more of these tasks after you’ve experienced a difficult situation, even if it doesn’t improve your mental state, at least you’ve achieved something, moved your body and will have a tidier home, garden or desk at the end of it.

Fields Millburn, J and Nicodemus, R (2010-2015) Essential: Essays By The Minimalists Montana: Asymmetrical Press

King, B. (2019) The Art of Taking It Easy: How to Cope with Bears, Traffic and The Rest Of Life’s Stressors. USA: Apollo Publishers

The ‘hyper brain’ of high IQ individuals + how minimalism can help with these anxieties

Mensa Magazine July 2020 High Iq Intelligence Anxiety Disorder Psychology Minimalism 1

In an article complied from the Mensa World Journal, the results of a study by lead author Ruth Karpinski of Pitzer College were shared with the Mensa UK community in the July 2020 issue of Mensa magazine.

With findings originally published in the journal ‘Intelligence’ and on neurosciencenews.com the article reports that highly intelligent people have an increased chance of suffering from psychological issues, including anxiety disorders.

The study developed a hyper brain / hyper body theory and suggests that “individuals with high cognitive ability react with an overexcitable emotional and behavioural response to their environments. Due in part to their increased awareness of their surroundings, people with a high IQ then tend to experience an overexcitable, hyperactive central nervous system.”

So those with above-average intelligence may find that they are more sensitive to their surroundings and, as such, may benefit from a minimalist approach.

On the other hand, a disorganised, cluttered space or environments with loud noises or strong smells could be enough to evoke an anxious response.

The co-author of the original study Audrey Kinase Kolb confirms that participants with a higher intelligence experienced significantly more anxiety than average: “Just over ten per cent of the US has a diagnosed anxiety disorder, compared to 20 per cent of Mensans.”

It goes to show that being ‘gifted’ is not always the case – as Karpinski says; “Those with high IQ possess unique intensities and overexcitabilities which can be at once both remarkable and disabling on many levels.”

In an effort to minimise those disabling effects, adopting a calm lifestyle and peaceful environment with minimal distractions – sounds, smells, clutter – could be a factor in improving anxieties in high IQ individuals.

From:

Mensa World Journal, 2020, ‘Anxious times for those with high IQ’, Mensa magazine, July 2020, pp. 28.

Original study:

Karpinski, R.I., Kinase Kolb, A.M., Tetreault, N.A., and Borowski, T.B, 2017, ‘High intelligence: A risk factor for psychological and physiological overexcitabilities’, Intelligence. Published online October 8 2017